Things haven’t been normal on the Mid North Coast the past few weeks. Things haven’t been normal in a lot of places along the East Coast, but since I live on the Mid North Coast, I’ll keep to this part of the world.

It’s hard to know where to start. Power outages, road blockages, communities shut off from one another, communities facing the very real threat of destruction. It hasn’t been the apocalypse, but there’s been times when the world has gone so red and the smoke has gotten so thick and the flames have stood so high it’s felt like it.

The fires have burnt right to the beach in parts. Driving down the Pacific Highway between Taree and Nabiac the day after it reopened was a strange and eerie experience. The trees were black and bare. There was no ground cover between them. The markings on road signs had been left warped and illegible and every so often you would see the buckled remains of a shed or water tank on someone’s roadside property. Strangest of all was how quiet the highway was. The largest and most heavily-used road in the region was all but deserted.

There’s a particular feeling that comes over you when a bushfire sweeps through your town. It’s not overwhelming fear, as you might expect. It’s not quite exhilaration either. It’s a powerful mix of adrenaline and an almost morbid fascination that hijacks your attention completely.

It lasts for days and leaves you exhausted.

But many of us have been lucky as well. People have lost their homes and people have lost their lives, but without the support we’ve received, a lot of people could’ve lost a lot more. The firefighters and emergency personnel have been unbelievable. Other organisations have been incredible too. The people at the evacuation centres. The volunteers. The businesses. Each community has stepped up and shown itself to be full of generosity and goodwill that isn’t always visible – and it’s been unreal to see.

Of course, there’s been an ugly side too. The whole blame game that’s playing out online, in the media and among politicians. People stressed, angry and lashing out at each other because their orderly lives have been turned upside and shaken in a way they haven’t experienced before.

I think that’s been the biggest take away for me. After the shit hits the fan and the indescribable feeling that comes over you starts to fade, all you want is a return to routine and normality. But bushfires and their aftermath don’t always allow for that. The situation up here has already dragged out for weeks and things still aren’t back to normal. It’s only November. We’ve got a long hot summer ahead of us. The whole country does.

I don’t think I’ll forget the first surf I had the day after the bushfire swept through my town in a hurry. The air was smoky as hell and there were still helicopters flying around putting out spot fires. The waves were average. Surfing has meant a lot of things to me in the twenty years I’ve been doing it, but then and there, I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy for it to just feel normal.